If the YMCA Can, Why Not Obama?

I’ve been a gym rat my whole life because it’s the only legal outlet for rage and tension that doesn’t lead to either busting a TV screen or a hangover.

YMCAs are relatively cheap and ubiquitous and I’ve sort of come to marvel at their rabbit warren-like layouts. From Brooklyn to Melbourne, Australia, each one is uniquely ridiculous in design, with floor plans laid out by Rube Goldberg wannabes.

Among the Y’s many advantages is its extension of family benefits to LGBT people. Keep in mind that YMCA stands for the Young Men’s Christian Association and dates back to Britain in 1844, when some enterprising Victorian named George Williams established its three principles of “a healthy spirit, mind, and body,” thus the upside-down triangle as its symbol.

I find it fascinating that such an institution with 45 million members worldwide extends the same respect—and family discounts—to its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members as to everyone else.

Think about this for a moment. A lesbian like myself has absolutely zero official documentation or legal relationship to my partner, who is of another race, or to her daughter, who is of another partner. Yet when I was arranging my own membership this summer, the clerk readily handed me the forms to fill out that guarantee a family discount if I wanted it, saying, “We accept every family.” Not a bad policy.

In fact it’s one that is increasingly extended by many institutions. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Manhattan gave us a family membership. Yes, I know they’re a bunch of artsy-fartsy types, but still the place is a megabucks institution and it isn’t required by law or anything. About 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies extend domestic partnership benefits to their employees, and Corporate America will never be known as a bastion of enlightenment.

The fact is that as a result of decades of struggle and millions emerging from their closets, American society has changed drastically, yet our government’s laws still deny basic decency and equality to its LGBT citizens.

So when I watched the video of President Obama adding his voice to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to prevent teen suicides, I was of two minds about his clip. On the one hand, it’s a milestone that the president of the United States would make such an unequivocal statement that is being widely circulated. On the other, he leads the world’s most powerful empire for crissakes, he’s not some dog catcher without influence!

I’ll set aside Obama’s past inanities about equal marriage rights, he now says he’s for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—great. I’m even willing to concede that the man has had a few tasks on his plate of dire consequences.

But Obama sits in his redesigned earth-toned Oval Office every morning getting news briefings that clearly include the horrific rise in LGBT suicides. No doubt, he is aware of that dollop of human poop on the Arkansas school board, Clint McCance, who wrote on his Facebook wall:

Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.

Obama has every news anchor and editor’s cell phone number on his speed dial. He can stand before Congress—which has been held by the Democrats for four years now!—and read off the list of names of LGBT people whose lives have been destroyed by reactionary and unequal policies and treatment. (My pal, Kyle Brown, an AIDS worker in NYC, has compiled a useful list of just those in October if the president would like a cheat sheet.)

Obama is arguably the most powerful man on the planet and yet on this issue, like so many others, he acts as if he were a hapless observer of catastrophes and not the architect of at least some of them.

In other words, I appreciate the gesture, but can the Obama administration stop hemming and hawing and codify LGBT rights into law already?! If President Eisenhower in 1953 could destroy the lives of gay and lesbian federal employees with the stroke of a pen, can’t President Obama in 2010 take a pen and add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

I know what some people will say. Wait, if he does that the Republicans will give him hell, they’ll call him a closet queen, a crazed Muslim-Kenyan-anti-colonialist- flaming-fag. Well, guess what? Who cares, they’re saying that and so much loopier stuff already.

Frankly, if the president wants to rev up his base and reinspire millions who devoted hundreds of hours to his election in 2008, the best damn thing he could do is come out fighting like someone who actually gives a shit about civil rights and stop acting like he’s a tourist meandering through the ruins.

Ending global warming and fixing the economy are complex issues. This one is blessedly simple. LGBT people are either equal or we are not. The administration must pick a policy and stick with it.

5 responses to “If the YMCA Can, Why Not Obama?

  1. Like every other promise he has broken, he will blame the Republicans. It is a trick both parties use when they don’t keep promises.

  2. Is the YMCA policy one that is to be applied worldwide? We were starting protests here in NC a few months ago because they denied family memberships to LGBT families, whereas the YWCA welcomed all families. It would be an interesting new angle to our protests if these branches of the NW NC YMCA were violating institution policy.

  3. Thanks for the useful question, Trish. I have a call in to YMCA HQ asking about their formal policy. Stay tuned.

  4. Kevin Daniel Gibbons

    I’m relatively new to the blogosphere but have been reading a lot. This is one of the most striking posts I’ve read thus far. Will read more, for certain.

  5. I was so glad to read your post about the YM/WCA. I don’t think we can look to the President for any kind of leadership in GLBTQ Rights. He and his wife and his entourage just don’t get it.

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